The Atlanta Streetcar: A ride in the right direction Michael Geisler Chief Operating Officer City of Atlanta, Georgia
he City of Atlanta has long been considered the economic and cultural capital of the Southeast. Over the past five years, the city has experienced rapid growth, attracting new businesses, revitalizing neighborhoods, and solidifying its place as the “Hollywood of the South,” with a booming entertainment and film industry. Despite these successes, access to viable and stress-free commuting options for those who live and work in downtown Atlanta is limited. Downtown Atlanta has the highest concentration of jobs in the expansive metropolitan region, drawing approximately 118,000 workers each weekday. With many of Atlanta’s 40 million annual visitors regularly flowing into the Downtown area, residents and tourists need additional transit and transportation options that are convenient, efficient and affordable.
In order to improve access to the core of the city, Mayor Kasim Reed launched the Atlanta Streetcar as the first step toward further developing the city’s transit system. Phase One, a 2.7-mile route crossing east-to-west from Centennial Olympic Park to the MLK National Historic Site, opened to passengers at the end of last year. Operated jointly by the City of Atlanta, the Metropolitan Atlanta Region Transportation Authority (MARTA), and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, the route consists of modern electric streetcars connected to an overhead power system with a single trolley wire. The streetcars operate on-street, traveling in lanes shared with other traffic, allowing for continued vehicular circulation through the Downtown corridor. The Streetcar’s passengers will ride for free through the end of 2015.
Operational costs will be covered by the TIGER II grant funds along with advertising, the city’s car rental and hotel motel tax and some funds from the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District. Atlanta received the largest TIGER V grant from the Obama Administration in the nation, which paid for the majority of construction costs. The Streetcar’s most immediate benefit is last mile connectivity for individuals who use mass transit as their primary form of transportation. By providing missing circulation and direct connectivity to existing transit services, the Streetcar will allow residents, commuters, and tourists alike to better access the Downtown area. It connects the eastern and western districts of Downtown, which have been separated by the I-75/I-85 corridor for fifty years. Linking these two areas back to one another will allow them to further develop in a way that has not been possible for more than a generation. Further, the Streetcar project provides an opportunity to implement infrastructure upgrades to the Downtown area, including redesigned sidewalk surfaces, striped bicycle lanes, traffic signal upgrades, and the conversion of a major one-way thoroughfare to a two-way street in order to ease congestion.
Mayor Kasim Reed and city officials cutting the ribbon to launch the Streetcar
“The Streetcar links neighborhoods that have been divided for more than a generation,” said Mayor Reed. “This
July 2015 issue of the APWA Reporter, the official magazine of the American Public Works Association